Austin enters into pretrial diversion agreement in animal cruelty case

TAYLOR COUNTY—An order was filed in Taylor County Circuit Court on February 26, that would allow a Taylor County defendant to enter into a pretrial diversion, an alternative to prosecution.

On February 18, defendant Marvin R. Austin appeared with his counsel Bader Giggenbach, before Judge Thomas A. Bedell, to address his case in which he was charged with numerous counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals.

During the hearing, Bedell clarified that the defendant completely understood the nature of the charges against him, as well as if he understood the potential penalty for his alleged crimes. If found guilty, Austin would be charged not less than $300 dollars nor more $2,000 or confined in jail not more than six months, or both, for each charge.

It was then that the court addressed with Austin the terms of the proposed pretrial diversion agreement, pursuant to West Virginia Code §61-11-22.

According to §61-11-22, a prosecuting attorney “may enter into a pretrial diversion agreement with a person under investigation or charged with an offense against the state of West Virginia, when he or she considers it to be in the interests of justice.”

The code further states: “Any agreement entered into pursuant to the provisions of subsection (a) of this section may not exceed twenty-four months in duration. The duration of the agreement must be specified in the agreement. The terms of any agreement entered into pursuant to the provisions of this section may include conditions similar to those set forth in section nine, article twelve, chapter sixty-two of this code relating to conditions of probation.”

Finally, the code notes that any person who enters into a pretrial diversion and complies with the terms is not subject to prosecution for the offense described in the agreement.

The terms of Austin’s agreement entered into with Prosecutor Laura Pickens, were discussed in court so that the defendant would have clear understanding of what was expected of him.

For a period of 18 months, beginning February 18, 2020, Austin would maintain bond and would have to adhere to any bond restrictions set forth.

In addition, Austin was ordered to forfeit any rights to the 20 horses taken on the first seizure that occurred on April 22, 2019. The horses were turned over to the rescues who had taken them in, and even if the defendant fails to comply with the pretrial diversion, they would remain the property of their caretakers.

As part of the bargain, the defendant agreed to pay restitution in the amount of $8,000 to Bella Run Equine within 10 days of the implementation of the agreement. It was noted that should the pretrial diversion agreement be violated, and the case goes to trial, the restitution would still be considered as paid in full.

While Austin would be allowed to live with, own and possess animals, during the 18 months, he would not be permitted to purchase any animals. As part of the agreement, he would also have to agree to a monthly examination of his animals by a licensed veterinarian for the duration of the agreement.

The defendant would be responsible for obtaining and paying any costs associated with those inspections. The veterinarian would then complete a report after each visit, and it would be the responsibility of Austin to provide said report to the court and the prosecutor.

In addition to the vet checks, the state or an agent of the state would be allowed to inspect his property where any livestock may be kept, at any time upon reasonable notice to Austin and his counsel.

Austin would be required to maintain a list of all animals and livestock that are his responsibility, along with a list of any animals sold or otherwise disposed of, and those lists would need to be presented to the court and state every other month.

During the pretrial diversion period, Austin would be placed on unsupervised probation and would be permitted to leave the state, but would not be allowed to violate any laws, take any drugs other that those prescribed by a doctor, possess any drug paraphernalia and must notify the state of any address change.

Additionally, the defendant would be prohibited from carrying or possessing firearms, deadly weapons or ammunition during the course of the diversion.

Furthermore, Austin would pay the costs assessed at $187 within 180 days of the implementation of the agreement.

Should Austin successfully complete the 18-month diversionary period, his case would be dismissed with prejudice.

It was noted in the court document that West Virginia State Police Corporal Daugherty, the investigating officer, was in agreement with the stipulations set forth in the deal.

After Austin agreed to accept the terms of the pretrial diversion, Judge Bedell ordered the Pretrial Diversion Agreement Pursuant to West Virginia Code §61-11-22 be entered into court record pertaining to the trial.


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